Remains believed to be those of a missing 2-year-old Virginia boy were found Wednesday morning in a steam plant that converts trash to energy, ending days of searching in a case where the boy's mother is charged in his disappearance, police said.
The remains, suspected to be Noah Tomlin's, were found at the city-owned steam plant in Hampton just before 9 a.m., nine days after his mother reported him missing from their Hampton mobile home, Hampton Police Chief Terry Sult said.
The plant is where city waste goes to burn. The combustion interacts with a water supply, creating steam that is piped to the nearby NASA Langley Research Center, which uses the steam for power.
City police officers -- suspecting the boy's body may have been taken to the plant or a landfill -- spent days sifting through about 2 million pounds of garbage by hand, Sult said.
The remains were not incinerated, said Sult, who declined to otherwise describe the remains' condition or say how they arrived at the plant. A medical examiner will examine the remains for formal identification, he said.
"Make no mistake: This has taken a toll on our community and our first responders," Sult told reporters Wednesday afternoon. "It will take time for all involved to recover and to heal."
The mother was arrested four days after she reported the boy missing
The investigation began June 24 when the boy's mother, Julia Leanna Tomlin, reported him missing. She initially said her son was last seen when he was put to bed around 1 a.m.; she reported him missing that day at 11:36 a.m., Sult said.
Initially, police said no explanation was being ruled out, including the chance he walked away.
But on Friday, Julia Tomlin, 34, was arrested on three counts of felony child neglect in connection with the boy's disappearance, police said without elaborating.
Investigators still are trying to determine how Noah died, Sult said.
Prosecutors will determine whether more charges will be filed in the case, the chief said. Asked whether anyone else would be arrested, Sult said Wednesday: "We're not excluding anything."
Officers picked through trash in awful conditions
Sult didn't say why investigators started searching the landfill and the steam plant, except that "information gained through the investigation helped focus the search efforts."
City police officers waded through trash in terrible conditions for days, the chief said.
"You're dealing with conditions that are high humidity, high temperature. In this case, at the steam plant, they're in a confined space," Sult said.
Firefighters monitored carbon dioxide and methane levels while officers searched, and called the officers back when the levels rose too high.
"When you get into that and you smell the odors and you're in the midst of everything, then you realize what you're there for, and you're going through literally millions of pounds of garbage," Sult said. "It takes tolls."